The Specialist degree (Russian: специалист) is a five-year higher-education degree that was the only first higher-education degree in the former Soviet Union and remains common and generally preferred by employers throughout the USSR successor states. In terms of the number of instructional hours (typically, 35 to 42 classroom hours per week, 34 weeks of instruction plus 6 weeks of exams per academic year), scholastic rigor and the amount of original research required for graduation, the Specialist degree meets or exceeds the requirements and expectations of a master's degree in the United States, Canada and the Bologna Process member countries. Commonly referred to simply as "Diplom", the Soviet/Russian-style Specialist degree is believed to have originated in the engineering education in the Russian Empire and Germany. It currently is being phased out by the bakalavr's (Baccalaureate) and magistr's (Magister or Master's) degrees.
In the early 1990s the bakalavr and magistr were introduced in all countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States except Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. However, the specialist degree (five years degree) remains the most commonly conferred master's degree in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Tajikistan. The specialist degrees in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were renamed diplom. A similar degree in German-speaking countries is called the Diplom. The specialist degree was discontinued in Ukraine in 2017.
Under Commonwealth of Independent States' education law, the specialist degree requires five years of study (which is equivalent to master's degrees).
Below are some examples of specialist degrees in the CIS:
In the United States, the Specialist's degree is hierarchically above the Master's degree and below the Doctorate. It was invented by colleges and schools of education as an alternative to obtaining a doctorate, and focused on subjects pertinent to K-12 education - such as leadership and counseling, and educational psychology.
Degrees commonly available include:
The American Specialist degree typically requires 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours beyond the Master's degree (60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours beyond the Baccalaureate) and can be completed in one to three academic years of continuous full-time or part-time enrolment. Depending on the particular program, practica and / or internship and / or practical field work may be required. Students admitted directly from the baccalaureate may earn a Master's degree in progression toward the Specialist's degree; or the institution may accept applications only from students who already hold a Master's degree.
The coursework for an Ed.S. or Sp.A. in Education program is approximately the same workload as a second Master's in terms of credits. But whereas coursework for the initial Master's degree is from the introductory and lower intermediate levels of graduate study (e.g. Levels 500 and 600 at institutions that use 100 - 900 level course numbering systems), work for the Specialist's degree will be in the intermediate and upper levels (e.g. 600, 700 and 800 level courses). According to the U.S. Department of Education's International Affairs Office's leaflet, entitled, "Structure of the U.S. Education System: Intermediate Graduate Qualifications," (Feb 2008), the Ed.S., as a degree, is equivalent to the D.Min. or Psy.D. / D.Psy. This reflects the degree's origin as an alternate to professional doctorates.
Ed.S. programs lead to professional degrees in the application of advanced educational theory but do not typically place an emphasis on conducting original research such as in Ed.D. / D.Ed. or Ph.D. programs.
School Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction are two of the most common areas where a specialist degree is found. In the field of school psychology, the degree is typically an Ed.S. or SSP. Despite being virtually identical in scope and function, the Ed.S. and SSP both exist within the field of school psychology because training programs can be offered within the departments of psychology or education. They simply designate the type of program from which the degree originated. As another alternative, some programs within psychology departments have begun offering a Psy.S. degree instead of an SSP.
A specialist degree is not to be confused with a specialist program, which in certain universities, refers to an undergraduate program that is more specialized than a major, typically requiring more credits and often a senior-year thesis or final project. Undergraduate "specialist programs" are also called "synthesised majors" and are commonly found in fine arts subjects, such as Bachelor of Music Therapy, in which the major and minor requirements are combined into one synthesised curriculum.
In many fields outside of education, the postgraduate certificate fills the same need as a Specialist degree - but differs in being an academic certificate rather than an academic degree. Postgraduate or graduate certificates typically require one-third to one-half the coursework of a Master's degree and an offered in a specific topical area, such as a Certificate in Historic Preservation.
Certain Master's degrees are de facto specialist degrees. In the field of Engineering, the Engineer's degree is a post-Master's degree, offered at a modest number of US universities (but including some prestigious ones such as Stanford and Caltech), which is relatively analogous to the Specialist degree. In French higher education, the Mastère Spécialisé is a degree designed essentially as a post-Master's degree, offered as a full-time, one-year program (although there are "Executive" versions of this degree, designed for working professionals, which take a little longer to complete). As such, this French degree also forms a close analogy to its US counterpart, although the Mastère Spécialisé is offered in a variety of fields such as business, informatics, and aeronautics.